Birth Defects Prevention Month

Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States and are a leading cause of infant mortality, reports the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.

Babies who survive and live with birth defects are at increased risk for developing many lifelong physical, cognitive, and social challenges.

Medical care and support services only scrape the surface of the financial and emotional impact of living with birth defects.

January 2013 is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. The theme is “Birth defects are common, costly, and critical.”

The good news is awareness efforts offer hope for reducing the number of birth defects in the future. The following prevention strategies can be promoted. Experts encourage all pregnant women and those who may become pregnant to:

– Consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.

– Manage chronic maternal illnesses such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or phenylketonuria (PKU).

– Reach and maintain a healthy weight.

– Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.

– Avoid alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs.

– See a health care provider regularly.

– Avoid toxic substances at work or at home.

– Ensure protection against domestic violence.

– Know their family history and seek reproductive genetic counseling, if appropriate.

Every 4 1/2 minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect.

In honor of January as Birth Defects Prevention Month, the National Birth Defects Prevention Network is actively focusing on raising awareness among health care professionals and the general public about the frequency with which birth defects occur in the United States and the steps that can be taken to prevent them.

The risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices and medical interventions before and during pregnancy.

There are many different kinds of birth defects including congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate, defects of brain and spine, and a variety of genetic syndromes such as Down syndrome. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health and some have life-threatening and/or life-long effects.

More than 120,000 babies born with a birth defect (approximately 1 in 33 live births) are reported each year in the United States.

Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children aged one to four years.

Public awareness, expert medical care, accurate and early diagnosis, and social support systems are all essential for optimal prevention and treatment of these all-too-common and often deadly conditions.

Things you need to know about birth defects:

– Did you know that birth defects can greatly affect the finances not only of the families involved, but of everyone?

In the United States, birth defects have accounted for over 139,000 hospital stays during a single year, resulting in $2.5 billion in hospital costs alone. Families and the government share the burden of these costs. Additional costs due to lost wages or occupational limitations can affect families as well.

– Did you know that birth defects are common?

Birth defects affect 1 in 33 babies every year and cause 1 in 5 infant deaths. For many babies born with a birth defect, there is no family history of the condition.

– Did you know that a woman should take folic acid during her teens and throughout her life?

Because half of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned, all women who can become pregnant should take a vitamin with folic acid every day. Folic acid helps a baby’s brain and spine develop very early in the first month of pregnancy when a woman might not know she is pregnant.

– Did you know that many birth defects are diagnosed after a baby leaves the hospital?

Many birth defects are not found immediately at birth. A birth defect can affect how the body looks, how it works, or both. Some birth defects like cleft lip or spina bifida are easy to see. Others, like heart defects, are not.

– Did you know that birth defects can be caused by many different things, not just genetics?

The cause of most birth defects is unknown. Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs, taking of some medicines; and exposure to chemicals and infectious diseases during pregnancy have been linked to birth defects. Researchers are studying the role of these factors, as well as genetics, as causes of birth defects.

– Did you know that some birth defects can be prevented?

A woman can take some important steps before and during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects. She can take folic acid; have regular medical checkups; make sure medical conditions, such as diabetes, are under control; have tests for infectious diseases and get necessary vaccinations; and not use cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs.

– Did you know there are ways a pregnant woman can keep her unborn baby safe from infections?

The best way to keep an unborn baby safe from infections is for a pregnant woman to wash her hands often, especially after using the bathroom; touching raw meat, uncooked eggs, or unwashed vegetables; handling pets; gardening; or caring for small children.

– Did you know there is no known safe amount of alcohol or safe time to drink during pregnancy?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning which can last a lifetime. There is no known safe amount, no safe time, and no safe type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. FASDs are 100 percent preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol while pregnant.